Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Weenie Greenie Bags a Fast 100 Miler!

There were many reasons to sign up for the Race For the Ages, an intriguing race concept formulated by Gary Cantrell, of Barkley Marathons fame.  Gary, along with many ultra runners who are long in the tooth, thought that there should be a race that attempts to level the playing field for the older runners.  Instead of cut-off's that almost preclude older runners, stage a race that embraces age; that provides more time to run for those whose faster days are behind them.  Sometimes several decades behind them!

And so Gary put his diabolical and inimical mind to work on the problem and came up with a novel race format.  The race would end at 6:00 PM on Labour Day (sorry Gary - Labor Day) Monday.  Runners would have 1 hour for each year of their lives.  Runners younger than 24 would still get 24 hours.  So, hypothetically, would a 24 year old runner be able to run more in 24 hours than a 48 year old runner in 48 hours?  What about an 84 year old?  3.5 days to compete with the babies!

Gary obviously put a lot of thought into the race.  Although the course was only a 1 mile paved loop, he added enough turns to avoid having to change direction during the race.  Reversing direction in an 84 hour race (the oldest runner dictates the length of the race!) would have been chaos.  The clock ticked DOWN from 84 hours.  This made it difficult to figure out how long a runner had been on the course.  Example, a 73 year old at 54:45:00 would have been running for 18:15:00.  However, it was easy to tell how old the runners were, when they started.  If the clock said 63:00:00, they were 63 years old!  There were about 50 race starts over the weekend!  That was about how many age categories started, from 84 down to 24.  The youngest starter was a 2 year old named Burrito.  I believe the toddler was a new addition to the Cantrell clan.

For a new race to become known, you can either spend millions of dollars in advertising, or have Gary as a race director.  The buzz went out early and the race was discussed on podcasts, in magazines and social media.  The race concept caught the eye of many of the ultra legends.  Suddenly it was not just a race for a handful of Tennessee ultra veterans.  Anne Trason, Liz Bauer and David Horton showed up.  Some youngster called Joe Fejes (49) joined the party.  Running the race was not just a chance to perform well in a multi-day (if you were over 24) event, but a meet-and-greet of ultra legends.

Lee Anne had a different purpose for the race.  She would focus on the 100 mile distance and sacrifice her chances at doing well at the 61 hour "distance".  Lee Anne is 61 and started at 5:00 AM on Saturday morning, 61 hours before the 6:00 PM Monday finish.  Her "A" goal was to take another shot at the Canadian 100 mile record for her age category (F60-64).  Her "B" goal was to complete 100 miles.  I think there was some talk of Lee Anne doing well in ARFTA, but unfortunately, she had to choose between doing well at the 100 mile distance, or the 61 hour race, not both.

The game plan fell apart even before the race started.  I went out for a "short" 9 mile run on Friday, the day before Lee Anne would start.  In 35 degree heat and 70 - 80 percent humidity, it was all I could do to finish.  How the hell would Lee Anne try to push hard for more than 24 hours in such heat?  In the pre-race meeting, friend Sharon Zelinski, Lee Anne and I discussed options and decide the best (only?) course of action would be to start at a moderate pace and if Lee Anne ran into trouble, shut it down during the afternoon heat.

Sharon was injured (PF) and had no intention of running more than 10K.  She ended up with 15K, but that was to make sure she stayed ahead of the Burrito...  Sharon appeared to have a blast at the race despite her injury. Almost all of the runners signed her race form and I think she talked to every runner who was at the race.  Sharon was a big component in Lee Anne's success.  Sharon helped out when I went for food or a nap, but more important was her experience in long races.

So, an extremely nervous Lee Anne stood at the start line at 5:00 AM Saturday morning, along with Gary Cantrell, Joe Chriest, Jeff Collins, Brad Compton, Rosemary Evans and Joe Salwan; the 61 year olds.  The clock ticked down to 61:00:00 and they were off.

Lee Anne's race was divided into 4 segments of 25 miles.  The plan was to complete the first 25 miles in 5 hours (5:00 - 10:00) and although a bit aggressive, this would align with Lee Anne's current training.  By 10:00 it was over 30 degrees (86F), but Lee Anne had achieved the first goal and although hot, was running well.  We had tried several approaches to keeping her cool, but nothing was having a significant effect in the heat and sun.  On about lap 26 (mile 26), Lee Anne asked for a small bag of ice.  Easy enough to comply, I swiftly handed her the bag and she was off.  On the next lap, she declared that the bag of ice was working very well.  She would dip into the bag and place ice under her cap, in her bra...  Perhaps you don't need all the details!  Although hot and getting hotter, the ice lasted a lap and allowed Lee Anne to continue running.

The second 25 mile plan was to incorporate walking breaks.  We had discussed five and ones, but since Lee Anne was doing well, she decided to take 1 or 2 walking breaks at specific points of the 1 mile course.  The time allocated for the second 25 miles was 6 hours.  I had mentioned in the briefing that completing 50 miles in 11 hours was overly aggressive and if she was behind schedule, not to worry.  However at 4:00 PM, Lee Anne had completed 50 miles.  On to the third 25 miler!

Near the end of the second 25 mile segment, the sky had clouded over, the wind picked up and Tennessee decided to put on a thunder and lightening show.  While Lee Anne continued to run (most runners headed inside the air conditioned building to wait out the storm), Sharon and I held on to our tent.  We watched several other tents, including 2 at the official aid station, get blown away.  I would guess that about 2 inches of rain fell within an hour, then the sun came out and volunteers started to pick up the pieces.

The rain came at almost the perfect time.  Lee Anne had been getting red in the face.  During the heat, although running well, I had asked if she would like to head inside, to cool down and rest during the heat of the day.  She felt good enough to continue,  After the rain, the air had cooled to about 25 (77F) and stopping every mile for ice was no longer needed.

During miles 50 - 75, Lee Anne started walking more.  She never did incorporate a 5 and 1 split, but continued to use cues along the course to determine her walking breaks.  This seemed to work well.  Sharon had explained that the trick was to "get used" to starting to run at a certain point (along the course or by time).  This would condition the body to get used to changing from a walk to a run.   Lee Anne was still churning out some 13 minute miles, but more were in the 17 - 20 minute range.  The plan was to complete miles 50 - 75 in 7 hours, for a total of 18 hours.  Lee Anne was able to stay near the plan, sometimes logging a few long laps, but averaging near the plan.

The final 25 mile segment was not pretty.  Lee Anne was experiencing stomach issues, as she had been trying to ingest enough calories, salt, electrolytes and fluids to keep up a significant pace.  I was running out of ideas on how to entice her to continue eating.  At about 80 miles, we had to stop giving her electrolytes (Nuun), as she no longer had a stomach for it.  I figured that she had almost enough time to walk the remaining 20 miles and would no longer need a large caloric intake, so she started having breaks from food.  This did not settle her stomach, but allowed her to continue clocking 18 - 20 minute laps.

At lap 85, I was having trouble staying awake.  I had slept badly on Friday night (about 4 hours) and had only obtained about 1 hour on Saturday night.  Lee Anne did not get much more sleep, so with an upset stomach and being bone weary, continuing to run was not high on her list.  I mentioned that she would probably break the record, even if she walked the last 15 miles, but if she continued running, she would be done sooner.  I think at this point Lee Anne realized that there was no reason not to run!  She would not get any more tired and running would end her race that much quicker.  From lap 87, her pace increased until she was completing miles in 16 - 18 minutes, with the odd 20 minute lap.  Her 100th lap was completed in 15:06.

At 61 years of age, Lee Anne ran 100 miles in 26:34:44, about 100 minutes faster than the current Canadian record!  I am very proud of her and have now seen how much stamina and perseverance she can harness.  As one ages, the pace suffers.  A woman in her 60's no longer commands a 5 minute kilometre pace.  Although near their "maximum" effort, 100 miles will still take considerable time.  The world record for F60 is 20:47:35, almost 21 hours.  Very few other age groups need to sustain effort for such a long time period.  Well done dear!

Some notes on A Race For the Ages...

The picture will confuse almost everyone.  Yes, Lee Anne completed 100 miles in 26:34:44, but the clock registered 34:25:10, which was the time remaining before 18:00 on Monday.  Recall that the clock is counting down!  Lee Anne started at about 61:00:00, so the difference is 26:34:44.

While I was running on Friday, Lee Anne and Sharon went shopping with Liz Bauer.  Lee Anne said she was tongue-tied during their foray.  I missed possibly the only occasion when Lee Anne was at a loss for words.  We all have to live with our regrets...

Lee Anne was listening to a podcast about Anne Trason, when she was interrupted by Anne Trason, who wanted to chat.  Lee Anne mentioned this to Anne who thought it was a bit weird!  I made most of this up.

At one point, Lee Anne was running with David Horton, who was also wearing a green shirt.  When David would not divulge his name, Lee Anne nicknamed him the green hornet, which is quite apt as I believe that David has won more ultras than anyone in the world.  David then nicknamed Lee Anne the weenie greenie...

Liz dropped off a big container of Gu Roctane for Lee Anne to try.  Later, I was chatting with Joe Fejes's crew (wish I could remember his name), who mentioned that they were low on energy drink.  Since Lee Anne had about 40 Hammer gels, I offered him the Gu Roctane.  I cautioned about trying something new during a race (a big taboo!).  Joe's crew read the ingredient list and mentioned that although they were looking for Maltodextrin (main ingredient of Gu Roctane), he knew that Joe could handle the second ingredient, Fructose.  Apparently Joe has a concrete stomach, which is good because I wouldn't want to be remembered as that Canadian who sabotaged Joe's race...

Anne Trason ran 115 miles shortly after having knee surgery.  Let me repeat that.  Anne Trason ran 185K shortly after having knee surgery.  After my knee surgery, I wasn't allowed to drive that far!

On the way home, I used the GPS to chart the route home.  I then completely ignored where we were going.  At one point, Sharon noticed that one of the upcoming directions said "Ferry".  What???  Sure enough, instead of crossing from Detroit along the Ambassador bridge, we had found the smallest ferry in the world, somewhere near Sarnia.  2 minutes after we arrived, I drove the car onto the ferry.  We were first on the boat.  I asked how long it would take and was told it would be 5 minutes.  In 5 minutes, we were driving up to Canada Customs, first in line (no cars waiting) and cleared customs in 3 more minutes.  On Labour Day Monday!

 Liz Bauer had asked if we could pick up a chicken sandwich from MacDonald's at about midnight.  So, while Sharon crewed for Lee Anne, I drove to Macs and picked up some supper for myself and a chicken sandwich for Liz.  I figured the chicken sandwich was instrumental in Liz winning the race.  She clocked 164 miles in 56 hours, for first female and 7th overall!

Many thanks to Gary Cantrell for thinking up such an implausible race structure and seeing it to fruition.  Also thanks to all the volunteers, who helped make the race a huge success.  Thanks to Mike from Florida who actually figured out how to time such an esoteric race.  Mostly, thanks to Sharon for "sharon" her wealth of knowledge on long races.  I am truly sorry for the pun.

Believe me!


  1. CONGRATULATIONS LEE ANNE. What a spectacular performance and sounds like a really great adventure for everyone! Loved reading this recap Pierre.

  2. Awesome Recap!.. Congratulations once again to Lee Anne..R.E.S.P.E.C.T is all I have to say ..

  3. Awesome account of an incredible race and runner. Well done Lee Anne!